Friday, August 23, 2013

Rattle Conducts Mozart in the Digital Concert Hall

It is common in orchestral concerts to hear one of the last three symphonies that Mozart wrote. It is less common to hear all three on the same program. Simon Rattle inaugurated a new season of live concerts by the Berliner Philharmoniker transmitted in the Digital Concert Hall with a program of these last three symphonies, written within a span of six weeks in the summer of 1788.

When hearing the symphonies in succession the differences in orchestration and in the particular color of sound in which each of them is cast seems worlds apart. The timpani sound in the E-flat major symphony that opened the event was played with a hard mallet that brought a military drum feel to its presence.

Rattle conducted on the floor of the stage, without a podium, without baton, and without scores. When he concluded the first symphony, he barely left the stage for applause before he returned to begin the great G minor.

We don’t normally hear the absence of sound, but because of the close juxtaposition of these symphonies, and the unusual color they had in the E-flat symphony, we were especially aware of the absence of timpani in the G minor symphony. The addition of oboes (which were not present in the symphony No. 39) made an impression and led to differing insights during the symphony No. 40.

Rattle seemed to extend the sudden silences that appear within the first two movements of Symphony No. 39 and he darkened its melancholy passages. This made the G minor symphony seem to develop ideas that were already hinted, or suggested, in earlier passages.

After intermission, the “Jupiter” symphony connected back by its use of timpani, and completed the amplification of double reed sound with the absence of clarinets. Mozart thought of sonic transformations like these in his operas, perhaps these connections were not simply chance.

It is a “new year” for the Berliner Philharmoniker, and those of us who teach are thinking about new students, new classes and new opportunities. What better way to celebrate the “new year” than with a concert of the last three Mozart symphonies in the digital concert hall?

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